Lim said the data show that only the number of close friends at church correlates with higher satisfaction with life. The study acknowledged the importance of religious identity, as well as number of friends, suggesting that the two factors reinforce each other.
"Social networks forged in congregations and strong religious identities are the key variables that mediate the positive connection between religion and life satisfaction," the study concluded.
Lim said he wanted to examine whether social networks in organizations such as Rotary Clubs, the Masons or other civic volunteer groups could have a similar impact, but it might be difficult.
"It's hard to imagine any other organization that engages as many people as religion, and that has similar shared identity and social activities," said Lim. "It's not easy to think of anything that's equivalent to that."
The Nemours Foundation has information on spirituality and health.
SOURCES: Chaeyoon Lim, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Harold G. Koenig, M.D., professor, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, associate professor, medicine, and director, Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.; December 2010 American Sociological Review
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